Fatbikes + Snow = Awesome

Every winter is the same scene played out again and again. The first snow falls and I head to Shingadin with my Mountain bike in tow to give the snow a whirl. I hike up to the top of Yellow 2 and start to ride. Everything is fine until I hit the snow. The tires bog down and get stuck and I’m left spinning the back wheel out trying to get any traction. Then I head back down the hill skidding all over the place, mostly out of control and pack my bike up and go home. I hang it up for the winter and just keep my XC skis in the car and do that for the 4 wintery blistery months of hell that is winter in Ithaca, NY.

35lbs of awesomeness
35lbs of awesomeness

This year is different. My ebiking addiction came to an abrupt halt as I quickly burned out the controller on my BBS02. While I sat on my hands and wait for the replacement controller to come all the way from China I started researching Fat Bikes. Fat bikes are mountain bikes with exceptionally wide tires (4″ or more) that are designed for soft snow and sand. People seemed to love them and it is poised to be ‘the next big thing’. The only thing stopping it was cost. For a bare bones single speed fat bike you’re looking at at least a grand, for anything decent more like $2000. A real Fat Bike was $3000+. There was no way I was going to pay that kind of money for anything that didn’t have a motor on it. Last year I borrowed Larry Clarkberg’s (Boxy bikes) Mongoose (a $200 fatbike from Wally’s world) with a super Torquey Stokemonkey electric motor on it. It was fun but the bike alone was 60lbs and the motor and battery added another 30 lbs making it feel a lot like a motorcycle not a bicycle. You could feel the Gyroscopic procession in the wheels as you cranked it up to speed. With nothing but the coaster brake it felt a little scary.

Fatbikes seem like the perfect candidate for electrification, but they are not. They have a non-standard bottom bracket (100mm instead of 68) and the hubs are really wide (135 front and 170 rear). While you can get a rear hub motor and mount it on the fork of the fatbike it was less than ideal. There was also a company in CA that took the BBS02 and put a huge axle 100mm on it and were selling it for $1600 (plus shipping). There was no way I was going to pay that kind of money for an electric fatbike I could hack together somehow.

I broke down and ordered a Boris X9 from Bike Island which was $700 shipping included and had a bunch of shipping damage. The bike arrived and was totally beautiful and weighed in at around 35lbs. I put it together and took it out for it’s maiden voyage the following morning. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. The bike seemed to bounce all over the place and I felt like I had very little control and the wheels were still quite heavy. My much loved Razzo 29er had no risk of getting replaced. I told Thilde of my letdown and she was loving and supportive as she always is.

Then it snowed. I heard someone say on the internet ‘When in doubt, let it out’ about tire pressure on fat bikes. I was already running less than 10psi which is about 1/2 the pressure I would ever run on my XC bike but I let it out down to about 6PSI. I took it for a spin in about 3 inches of fluffy powder. Everything changed. I was suddenly having the time of my life. The bike wasn’t bouncing and sliding everywhere unpredictably. It was still sketchy and strange, but a fun sort of strange. I felt like it was a strange combination of skiing, sledding and biking. My back wheel easily locked up and skid around corners. On the downhill I just locked up both brakes and slid down the slopes. It was really, really fun.

The next several days I spent at Thilde’s taking the bike down impossibly steep slopes through the trees only to climb back up her 1 mile driveway which ascends a massive 900 feet. Ripping through the woods in 4 inches of snow is more fun that I ever imagined possible.

So much of my life has been about being a fun hog. I want to have more fun and have a more fulfilled life than anyone I know. I’m constantly looking for new and crazy activities to support that lifestyle. Fat biking in powder solidly fits into my goals and I predict many more happy mornings pedaling though the majestic woods with snow covered trees.

So lose some tire pressure, hop on a fat bike and start sliding around in the woods.

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